February 08, 2023
If there's one things that Jazmine Sullivan learned as she transitioned from performing in Philadelphia's churches and clubs to the national stage, it's that so much joy is stolen from thinking ahead when there's always beauty right in front of us.
The Philly native R&B singer took listeners on a journey through her life and the Black women who made it special in an audio story called "The Art of Confessing," recorded at World Cafe Live and released as part of Audible's "Words + Music" series. The series features artists like Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter, Billie Joe Armstrong and Alanis Morissette, sharing stories from their pasts and performing their biggest hits.
Sullivan's episode begins with her childhood as a young girl growing up at the historic Strawberry Mansion estate, where her father worked as a caretaker. She spent her earliest days singing at the St. Andrews Fellowship Baptist Church in Germantown and the now-shuttered L.P. Hill Elementary School in Strawberry Mansion before heading to the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, where she met some of her lifelong friends.
"I always needed a friend to laugh with, express myself with, and there was never any jealousy with the people I chose to be in my circle. We always understood the assignment. Each one of us had beautiful gifts and common dreams for our future, but we connected on a deeper, genuine level. Yes, we supported each other's endeavors through the years, but the meat of our love is in the personal battles we support each other through. My girls were busting windows right along with me and holding me after."
Sullivan got her start as a singer performing at her family's church, where her mother often sang and her grandmother read poems with a hint of satire. She credits gospel music with the soulful, spirited sound of her voice, and the influences of Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige and Erykah Badu for her tone and ability to riff and run, which became her way to express herself.
All along the way, Sullivan credits the women in her life with lifting her up and inspiring her to chase after her dreams and defy expectations placed around her. Though some of the earliest female figures in her life were her mother, grandmother and Ariel from "The Little Mermaid," Sullivan credits so much of her career and her confidence to the women she's worked with and loved over the years she has spent in the business.
"There's something powerful about women together," Sullivan said. "I feel like there's nothing we can't do if we're cheering each other on throughout our lives. The women in my life are so special to me, and they're a huge reason that I am who I am and who I will be."
In the hour-long confessional, the R&B singer discusses working with Missy Elliott on some of her earliest songs, including "Need U Back," Sullivan's first single that peaked at the top of the Billboard R&B & Hip-Hop chart in 2008.
The singer also speaks candidly about some of her biggest challenges, including being dropped from Jive Records at the age of 17 because she hadn't found her sound, and feeling afraid to celebrate her wins due to that loss. She spoke about her extended break from music, which spanned from 2011 until the release of "Reality Show" in 2015.
Sullivan revealed that, for much of that break, she was suffering in a long-term abusive relationship.
"Black women go through life being taught to be strong," Sullivan said. "We've had to endure pain for so long that we are conditioned to believe that resilience should be a part of our life experience. As if living a hard life with struggle-love is what makes us a real woman. But I think women these days are opting out of that mindset."
Sullivan has been experiencing a lot of hardship recently as she cares for her mother, who is battling breast cancer. She said that, above all, the women in her inner circle are continuing to support her and her family during their struggle.
Sullivan's hour-long diary entry included performances of "Lions, Tigers, and Bears," "Pick Up Your Feelings," "Let It Burn," "Girl Like Me" and "Masterpiece." The full episode can be streamed on Audible.